Pubdate: Thu, 03 Nov 2005
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2005 Detroit Free Press
Author: Kortney Stringer, Free Press Business Writer


Latest Campaign Focuses On Exaggeration, Not Fear

In the 1980s, a frying egg was used as a scary metaphor for a brain 
sizzling on drugs.

Two decades later, the White House Office of National Drug Control 
Policy's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has launched an 
Above the Influence campaign -- a play on the saying "under the 
influence" -- to remind teens to just say no to drugs but in a unique way.

Unlike the previous ads that have tried to shock teens into action, 
the new ads use humor, exaggeration and shame to play on teens' 
desires to maintain their identities and reject negative influences.

The ads began airing in Michigan and across the nation this week and 
will run through April.

"This campaign recognizes teens are very concerned with who they are, 
and drugs are something they should be above," said Tom Riley, 
spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We're 
trying to find ways to get them to make smart choices and to see 
destructive choices like using drugs as something that would diminish 
their identity."

The campaign -- which includes six TV commercials, print ads and a 
Web site, ( 
- -- comes at a time when teens seem to be responding to efforts to 
keep them off drugs.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health released in 
June, 83% of youths report having seen or heard an alcoholic or drug 
prevention message in the past year, and those youths who have seen 
those messages were much less likely than their peers to report using 
illicit drugs.

The new TV spots replace some of the ads for the long-running Your 
AntiDrug campaign, which was widely thought to be a difficult concept 
for teens to grasp. The campaign featured ads with teens doing such 
things as playing sports and other activities as their antidrug.

Secara Burns, a Southfield-Lathrup High School student, said the Your 
AntiDrug campaign was a successful way to reach her peers.

"I feel that all teens should know the effects of smoking, and every 
teen should have an antidrug," said the 15-year-old, who is involved 
in such extracurricular activities as dance.

In one of the new Above the Influence TV spots, a boy through an 
interpreter tells teens that he's an idiot for allowing his friends 
to dupe him into smoking marijuana and accepting a dare that led to 
his fist being stuck in his mouth. Another ad called "Flat," shows a 
girl speaking up for a friend, a teenager who looks like a deflated 
human balloon who breathes heavily and wants to do nothing but sit 
lifelessly on a couch after having started smoking marijuana.

The $25-million Above the Influence campaign -- the value of which is 
doubled because media companies such as MTV, Fox, WB and UPN provide 
one free ad for every paid one -- is a slight departure from public 
service announcements of recent years.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, New York, which partnered to 
create the campaign, said the ads are the result of research and 
focus groups that found today's teens respond favorably to hearing 
from their peers.

As a result, the latest campaign relies less on traditional network 
TV ads and focuses more on the Web and reaching teens in places such 
as malls, arcades and movie theaters. The campaign also uses slang 
terms such as "pot" and "weed" to describe marijuana to teens.

"Research with teens illustrates clearly that they aspire to have 
their own identity and not give in to all the pressures of their 
lives," said Roy Bostock, chairman of the partnership, which worked 
with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and New York 
City-based Foote Cone & Belding advertising firm on the campaign.

Public service announcements, particularly ones geared toward fickle 
teens, typically evolve as times change.

In the '80s, using fear was a popular way to get teens to reject drug 
use as reflected in the preachy tone of the Just Say No message and 
TV commercials showing images of coffins and graves. The ads became 
fodder for jokes among adults and children, but such tactics 
continued through the late 1980s when William J. Bennett, President 
George H.W. Bush's drug adviser, said: "Kids need to see more burnout cases."

But in the 1990s, after research showed that parents are more 
effective communicators of the drug-free message, ads were introduced 
to urge them to talk to their children about such things as 
cigarettes, alcohol, drugs and sex. Indeed, the Office of National 
Drug Control Policy's Your AntiDrug campaign, which began in 1999, 
had two ad components -- one for teens and the other for parents.

Teen ads including a TV spot in which a woman sits at a meticulously 
set dining table while it's implied her grandchild is tardy because 
of drugs no longer will air. Continuing ads urge parents to get over 
being feeling hypocrites for having smoked marijuana in their past, 
then approaching the subject of drug use with their teens.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman and president of the National Center 
on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and former 
U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, said campaigns to 
try to stop teens from using drugs are important, but ads that reach 
parents are even more critical.

"All the media campaigns in the world are nothing compared to 
parental influence on teens," he said. "Nobody and nothing has as 
much influence -- for good or for bad -- as parents do on teens."
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